Cougar-gate Update

IMG_20150522_154553_399The cougar is *almost* ready for graduation, thanks to:

Carly Pate, Kelsey Clarke, Skyler Mitchell,  Julia Arenson, Morgan Giles, Josie Beaver,  Harry Sullivan, Andrea Eller, and Colin Oliveira. Thank you!

Carly reports that the students collected muscle mass measurements as they removed meat from the bones; 24.3 kg (53.5 lbs.) of muscle was removed before processing. Although they won’t win any culinary awards, I could not be happier with the results of their work. Special thanks are due to Molly Shelton, John Steele, and Frances White, each of whom also played key roles in the adventure we’re calling, Cougar-gate.

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A Cougar Processed by Ducks

cougar and three

Carly Pate, Morgan Giles, and Kelsey Clarke breaking down rib cage & vertebrae, May 11, 2015. Photo by M. Moss

Thanks to Zooarchaeology student Molly Shelton and her generous sheep-ranching friends, we have a new addition to the North Pacific Comparative Collection.  A six-year-old male Puma concolor had recently taken one too many sheep and was donated to the UO Department of Anthropology. The remarkably enthusiastic Primate Osteology Lab Students have risen to the challenge to process the specimen.  Despite the complaints of an “unfortunate odor” in Condon Hall (thank you, Colin, for that euphemism!), the students are doing a fantastic job and we hope the cougar is ready for display on graduation day!  A special thanks to Professor Frances White and graduate student Andrea Eller for providing the resources and training the students to accomplish this critical (but stomach-wrenching) work. Thanks also to John Steele whose brilliant “carcass packaging” and strong back facilitated transport (I will spare you more details.)

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Marmots on Admiralty Island?

2662Years ago, when I was the archaeologist for Admiralty Island National Monument, I was surprised that several marmot bones were reported from Daxatkanada, an archaeological site first excavated by Frederica de Laguna in 1949-50 and later re-investigated as part of my dissertation.  Having worked on Admiralty Island with knowledgeable biologists, I had learned that marmots do not occur naturally on any island other than Douglas Island (near Juneau) in the Alexander Archipelago (see also McDonald & Cook 2009:67-70 Recent Mammals of Alaska). Back then, I suspected that the original identification was in error, but during 2014, I had the privilege of examining the faunal remains recovered by de Laguna that now reside in the Hearst Museum of UC Berkeley. What you see in the photo is the archaeological specimen (a femur) in the center, compared to my juvenile yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) above and a land otter (Lontra canadensis) below.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a an adult M. caligata to compare.  This femur and other specimens from the site really do appear to be marmot.  So we must infer that somebody at Daxatkanada was in the possession of the bones of a marmot or two.  The question is why? Heaton and Grady (2003) found M. caligata in Pleistocene fossil assemblages (dated to 26-27,000 years ago) from Prince of Wales Island.  Could marmots have been more widespread throughout the Alexander Archipelago during pre-contact times than during the 20th century? Did Tlingit ancestors curate and transport marmot bones from the mainland to Admiralty Island? Were whole marmots traded to the islands? If the skins were valued, I wonder why the bones show up… marmots do not seem like they would be highly desired food animals, but then, I have never tasted marmot.

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hunting for herring & finding smelt from 49-NAK-008

49NAK008 smeltLast spring, while working in the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the sharp-eyed Anna Sloan found some small fish bones in a feature sample Don Dumond excavated from the Leader Creek site, 49-NAK-008, in 1973. In the pursuit of herring bones for our ancient DNA study, I examined the bones.  They weren’t herring but appear to be smelt, but not the eulachon or surf smelt we have in our comparative collection. This was confirmed after taking the specimens to Portland State, and examining Virginia Butler’s excellent collection. Rory Walsh took this great photo, and based on their provenience, I am *guessing* that these may be rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax, which are common in this region. But rainbow smelt, to my knowledge, have never been identified in an Alaskan archaeological site.  At least some of the vertebrae (like the one in the upper right) look as if it passed through a digestive system, so perhaps these are stomach contents? I would love to be able to confirm the identification: does anyone have a rainbow smelt specimen available for loan? Or better yet, if you live on the Alaska Peninsula and fish for smelt, I would love to acquire a frozen fish to process.  I will pay for shipping! Has anyone ever identified rainbow smelt archaeologically?

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The Columbia: River of Shad?

Last week I delivered a public lecture at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, The Archaeology of Herring: Fisheries and Sustainability across Millennia. Mostly I talked about Pacific herring in Alaska and B.C.  I had a great audience, many of them fellow fish-lovers, and some good questions were asked, including ones I couldn’t answer. One person asked about the Columbia River shad, about which I knew only as an important East Coast fish that was introduced into the Pacific Northwest.  I commented that my father would probably be ashamed of my knowing so little about this fish. Stimulated by the the questioner’s prompting (and not wanting to further embarrass my father who taught me to fish), I’ve learned that the American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is the largest member of the clupeid (herring) family.  Although it gets bigger on the east coast, it can grow to 24 inches and 8 lbs. in the Columbia. This species was introduced into the Sacramento River in 1871, and some stragglers found their way to the Columbia even before it was introduced there in 1885. Shad have been incredibly successful adapting to the Columbia, especially after the “Celilo Invasion” in 1957 when they were able to get past the falls with the construction of the Dalles Dam.  So while this and other dams have harmed salmon, new niches have been created for shad.  As Hinrichsen and Ebbesmeyer (1998:) wrote, “as long as we have dams on the Columbia… it may be best to value and manage the shad.” Their article in Shad Journal is very instructive <http://www.cbr.washington.edu/shadfoundation/shad/JOURNAL3/vol3n2.pdf>. We should all be eating more shad, and their roe sounds especially delicious.

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Herring Eggs in Sitka

What a privilege to go out on the boat with Sitka Tribe resource managers Jeff Feldpausch and Jessica Gill to watch them pull a set of hemlock branches covered in herring roe. Not being an Alaska resident, I couldn’t help with the harvest, but I was able to help with the processing along with other STA employees and also some ADF&G subsistence personnel.   We processed about 900 lbs. of roe with about 7 people working 4 hours.  It was impressive. And herring eggs right off the rock are so delicious!  What a special food…I’ve had herring eggs before but nothing else compares. Processing herring eggs with Sitka Tribe of Alaska

Processing herring eggs with Sitka Tribe of Alaska
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Archaeology of Herring – now in PNAS

Iain McKechnie and Madonna Moss

McKechnie & Moss looking at Cl pa 9 (Clupea pallasi #9) in comparative collection

We are excited to announce that our Northwest Coast-wide study of herring has just appeared in PNAS:

McKechnie, I., D. Lepofsky, M.L. Moss, V.L. Butler, T.J. Orchard, G. Coupland, F. Foster, M. Caldwell, and K. Lertzman (2014) Archaeological Data Provide Alternative Hypotheses on Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) Distribution, Abundance, and Variability. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)  doi: 10.1073/pnas.1316072111. Online February 18, 2014.

You can find the paper at <http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/13/1316072111>

See also: <http://uonews.uoregon.edu/archive/news-release/2014/2/oregon-researchers-say-ancient-herring-catch-nets-fisheries-weakness>

 

 

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Not-so-deep History of Pacific Flyway

Here is one of five ducks I recently salvaged from Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to the excellent staff there. There was a duck die-off in early September and many ducks succumbed to a botulism outbreak due to over-crowding around the shrinking waters of Tulelake. This duck will be processed in Frances White’s lab by one of her excellent students, under the supervision of Andrea Eller and Samantha Buckley.  We will use its bones to help identify the genus Aythya in archaeological assemblages.

adult male ring-necked duck

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Deep History of the Pacific Flyway update

 

Lunate Crescent for Southern California

Our article,Waterfowl and Lunate Crescents in Western North America: The Archaeology of the Pacific Flyway is now available for download on the Journal of World Prehistory website, <http://link.springer.com/journal/10963>.  The project grew out of my residency at Playa in central Oregon less than one year ago. It was a real challenge to finish this paper because my co-author, Jon Erlandson, and I are now divorced after 31 years together. Long story… but the story of birds in western North America at the end of the Pleistocene is far more interesting.

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The Archaeology of Herring – Nash Harbor Update

Gadid (cod) vertebrae from Nash Harbor, previously identified as herring (Souders 1997). Photo by Rory Walsh

Tiny vertebrae from Nash Harbor bulk sample as they appear to the naked eye. Photo by M. Moss

These Nash Harbor vertebrae have been sitting in a box at the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum in Bethel for 15 years or so.  I am deeply indebted to Steve Street for re-locating them and sending them to me. I am also grateful to NIMA (Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska) Corporation, who have been the owners of the Nash Harbor archaeological sites since 2007.  142 vertebrae were identified as herring from this sample.  When I first examined them on Feb. 8, 2013, they didn’t look like herring, but appeared to be small cod (gadid).  But there was so much sediment on the vertebrae, they were hard to see.  I received permission to gently wash the vertebrae which I did.  Then, I examined each and every one under magnification.  They are NOT herring, not even a single one of them! They are a small gadid, perhaps tom cod.  I think I have identified what may be a chronic problem in the north… when small fish vertebrae are found they may often be assumed to be herring without adequate examination.  Years ago, when I first started working with fish bones, I never used a microscope… but today, we know we have to use magnification to identify small taxa. So this is a cautionary tale: if herring are reported as present, and no other small fish taxon has been identified, then you might want to re-visit the identification.

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